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The Six-Month Fix: Adventures in Rescuing Failing Companies

The Six-Month Fix: Adventures in Rescuing Failing Companies

by Gary Sutton

"If you're the CEO of a struggling business, let's hope we never meet. I'm Gary Sutton, a turnaround guy. When I arrive you leave. Results usually get better and fast."-from the Introduction to The Six-Month Fix
Lessons on how to save a sick company from a top turnaround CEO
One of the business world's most sought-after "trauma specialists," Gary Sutton has


"If you're the CEO of a struggling business, let's hope we never meet. I'm Gary Sutton, a turnaround guy. When I arrive you leave. Results usually get better and fast."-from the Introduction to The Six-Month Fix
Lessons on how to save a sick company from a top turnaround CEO
One of the business world's most sought-after "trauma specialists," Gary Sutton has salvaged nearly a dozen failing businesses, including everything from printing, garbage hauling, and burglar alarm companies to aerospace, satellite communications, and software firms. In The Six-Month Fix, Sutton takes readers behind the PR curtain to give them an intimate look at the situations he faced coming into several sick companies and how he fixed what ailed them. Writing in his trademark frank, funny, no-holds-barred style, he shares his war stories and the lessons he learned about what it takes to save a faltering business. Not for the faint of heart, The Six-Month Fix offers honest, straight-from-the-hip advice for managers in training for the business fight of their lives.
Gary Sutton (La Jolla, CA) sits on several private boards, is a Director of WebSense (WSBN-Nasdaq), and is the author of several books.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...it is full of firecrackers that make some valuable points.." (Financial Times, 13 February 2002)

"...but this book is not typical and is well worth reading." (Eurobusiness, April 2002)

"...better than almost any fiction novel I have read...could keep even non-management glued to it for hours..." (M2 Best Books, 30 July 2002)

Financial Times
..it is full of firecrackers that make some valuable points..

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Read an Excerpt

If you're the CEO of a struggling business, let's hope we never meet.

I'm a turnaround guy. When I arrive, you leave, and profits return. This book shows how we can avoid that unpleasantness.

You're probably smarter than me, undoubtedly know your industry better, and may be a superior leader. But I've fixed more businesses. I don't cling to unrealistic hopes or hesitate to change things. Any fresh set of eyes, not just mine, will simply do the rational and obvious things, getting results before those nasty creditors padlock your doors.

We outsiders, having seen it all before, free of your emotional baggage, find the fixes and do them with comfort and confidence. The process would nauseate you. This faltering child was yours. We discipline and save the kid. You and I, together, might celebrate this youth's graduation much later. But for now, stand aside.

To check my thin veneer of credibility, flip to Chapter 68. This gives audited or publicly reported performances on every single CEO, founder, or chairman's job I assumed from 1980 until The Six-Month Fix rolled off the presses in 2002. You'll see garbage hauling, satellite communications, forms marketing, retail advertising, aerospace manufacturing, printing, a private college, burglar alarm sales, plus a data storage business. It's nowhere near a perfect record, but every investor saw either losses vanish quickly or profits jump above their industry norms. A few basked in outrageous cash returns. Some was luck. Some wasn't. I'm not sure which was which, but the same basic tactics somehow worked every time.

Being the CEO du jour in eight different industries gave me an unusual perspective. Yup, I'm a mile wide and an inch deep. You think your business is unique from all others and most folks say that. You're all wrong. Sorry. The tactics described here work in all nonregulated businesses. How to use this book depends on who you are.

1. If you're a director, shareholder, or executive of a company that's losing money at a rate that'll bankrupt you within the year, please, do not read the whole book. You don't have that kind of time, pal. Go straight to the turnaround chapters titled in boldface. These tell how to stop the bleeding. Follow them and within six months your losses will be gone, your cash stabilized, and employees shall smile once again. Really. If you're the CEO, however, you'll have been “made available to industry” in this process and should be doing other things. But your stock will rebound, so chin up.

2. If you're breaking even, or making modest money but losing ground to competitors, skip the turnaround chapters and go straight to the chapters headlined with italics. These 52 management lessons read easy. Each ends with three action steps. Commit your management to executing one chapter a week. No more, no less. At the end of twelve months your company will coin money and great things will be within your grasp. But my fears are greatest for you break-even people, even more than for those hemorrhaging cash. The impending doom that motivates losers is absent from your comfy, mediocre existence. Crank it up a notch.

3. If you're making sinful and growing profits, good show! (I'm thrilled you bought the book, but why?) You can enjoy this more than the other readers. Try a dollop or two of the secret sauces when you have time, and if you feel like it. Your reward is that you get to read straight through, starting at the beginning and shuffling straight through to the end. The turnaround chapters, which are in boldface titles and longer, are mixed with the profit-boosting sections, which are italicized and shorter. This gives you changes of pace as you go. Hey, I cater to winners.

Stopping losses and boosting profits, by the way, are day and night, hot and cold, yin and yang. Think of turnarounds as blacksmith work, throwing off sparks, energy surrounded by clanging noises while the turnaround manager flails away, reshaping some stressed iron. Think of boosting profits as watchmaker tasks, with quiet discipline, thought, and small, careful moves by a professional manager. Both shape the metal, but these two moments demand different mentalities, speed, and leadership.

Saving your business requires bringing in an outsider, often a turnaround professional. Some are birds who work for creditors while others are fish who toil for shareholders. Even battle-scarred professionals remain strangely unconscious of this distinction, but these folks, unaware of the difference themselves, think and act uniquely without knowing, and share few objectives. You'll learn the difference here. The turnaround sections also tell how to identify frauds.

Oh yes, there are frauds aplenty. Anytime a board or owners are paralyzed by steep losses, the one-trick ponies and unemployed CEOs come acalling, soon followed by those firms who specialize in bailing out the seven-piece-suit lenders from their nervousness, getting that debt remortgaged to tougher guys while the quivering client corpse gasps for air, stripped of any prayer for equity recovery within the current ice age. You'll learn how they maneuver you into this.

Another trap, common as a cold, is that even the top turnaround managers are wholly incapable of leading a business after it's fixed. These Cinderellas stay too long at the dance, and get ugly after midnight. Chapter 17 peeks at those embarrassments.

Don't think about this turnaround stuff for a second if you're above break-even.

What you need then are the building blocks that enhance profits. Most turnarounds fail after they rebound. They celebrate prematurely and forget to shift into the next gear. That's why the 52 profit-enhancing chapters are included. They'll guide you after the fix, and lift your company to new heights.

This part, rebuilding profits, takes a full year easily. The turnaround itself happens in six months.

If that sounds too fast to be true, you are part of the problem. There's no reason to dally. It'll be traumatic and requires two management makeovers, but converting a loser into a winner is worth some turbulence.

Winning beats losing. Duh. Watching your employees sniff a breeze of success feels better than burying everybody under six feet of losses, food for worms, sucking stale air in a corporate coffin, dazed and glassy-eyed. Okay, okay, a single failure might not destroy all careers forever, but it takes years to recover reputation, self-esteem, and lifestyle. And that's not all. Customers suffer, shareholders get hurt, bankers gobble too many Tums; since you pay less tax, you don't even cover your fair share of road repairs, school costs, or the military protection we all enjoy, you parasite.

Losses are malignant. Let's stop 'em.

Meet the Author

GARY SUTTON has been a "turnaround CEO" for various firms, including printing, software, retail advertising, aerospace manufacturing, satellite communications, and online data storage. Currently, Sutton sits on two public and several private boards. Sutton also writes a column for a local business magazine, the T-Sector, and has authored several books.

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